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Sunnyside Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 5, 2009

3.3 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, May 5, 2009
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Book Description
Glen David Gold, author of the best seller Carter Beats the Devil, now gives us a grand entertainment with the brilliantly realized figure of Charlie Chaplin at its center: a novel at once cinematic and intimate, heartrending and darkly comic, that captures the moment when American capitalism, a world at war, and the emerging mecca of Hollywood intersect to spawn an enduring culture of celebrity.

Sunnyside opens on a winter day in 1916 during which Charlie Chaplin is spotted in more than eight hundred places simultaneously, an extraordinary delusion that forever binds the overlapping fortunes of three men: Leland Wheeler, son of the world’s last (and worst) Wild West star, as he finds unexpected love on the battlefields of France; Hugo Black, drafted to fight under the towering General Edmund Ironside in America’s doomed expedition against the Bolsheviks; and Chaplin himself, as he faces a tightening vise of complications—studio moguls, questions about his patriotism, his unchecked heart, and, most menacing of all, his mother.

The narrative is as rich and expansive as the ground it covers, and it is cast with a dazzling roster of both real and fictional characters: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Adolph Zukor, Chaplin’s (first) child bride, a thieving Girl Scout, the secretary of the treasury, a lovesick film theorist, three Russian princesses (gracious, nervous, and nihilist), a crew of fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants moviemakers, legions of starstruck fans, and Rin Tin Tin.

By turns lighthearted and profound, Sunnyside is an altogether spellbinding novel about dreams, ambition, and the dawn of the modern age.

Glen David Gold on Sunnyside

Charlie Chaplin became the repository of the soul of the 20th century through an especially mysterious alchemy. In trying to explain this, most commentators eventually turn their eyes away, as if wrapping their heads around it is too impossible, too much like explaining, well, magic.

Which is where I come in. I'm a fan of the inexplicable. When Chaplin became the most famous man in the world, he surpassed the previous most famous man in the world, Houdini. And yet no one has really tried to grasp—in a novel&mdash:the consequences of the very first uncontrolled frisson of fame. Perhaps because few authors grew up among Hollywood-style genius and madness, Chaplin has rarely been used in fiction. But I lived in Hollywood (the very hospital I was born in later became the Scientology West Coast headquarters). My great aunt Ingrid, a journalist, was Chaplin's neighbor in Switzerland; family legend has it that he dictated parts of his autobiography to her.

So: in 1914, Chaplin was barely even a film comedian, Hollywood was a farm town where the lights went out at 8 o'clock, and America was more or less a great big cornfield with an occasional city poking among its rows. And in 1918, Chaplin was a genius, Hollywood was the world's aspirational mecca, and America... well, America was in serious trouble, in that it thought it had won the War.

Sunnyside is the story of this rapid transformation as Chaplin and his adopted country lose, one more devastating time, their innocence.

While I was working on Sunnyside, I realized to my embarrassment I was writing about something of importance. Try as I might to keep it light entertainment (and yes, there are train chases, dancing princesses, clever jewel robberies, crossbow executions, rescues at sea and battles with flamethrowers), it turned out that I was writing a novel of ideas. It relies less on plot than character, less on explosions (but I did mention the flamethrowers, no?) than on epiphanies, less on clever twists than on an ever-deepening worldview. I wanted to explain how only America both wins and loses wars at the very same moment.

Sunnyside plunders film theory, fairytales, arcane Hollywood business practices and the private lives of its most famous citizens so I can question in the end whether the universe actually has meaning, or if narrative is our last, best attempt to beat back a crushing loneliness that almost none of us can comprehend.

Oh, almost none of us—except Charlie Chaplin. —Glen David Gold

(Photo © Jonathan Sprague)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. From the bestselling author of Carter Beats the Devil comes an elegant blend of reality and fiction, war drama and Hollywood glamour. Gold sets into motion his cameo-heavy, multipronged plot with a bizarre incident in winter 1916, when Charlie Chaplin is spotted simultaneously in 800 places across the country, causing mass hysteria and panic. The primary story line follows Chaplin's struggles with women, creativity, film budgets and his opposition to the war. In a second, intersecting world, Leland Wheeler moves from the hinterlands to San Francisco with dreams of being a film star. He rechristens himself Leland Duncan, and though he gets shipped to the battlefields of France, the two ailing puppies he finds over there later provide his entrée to the movie biz. Finally, Hugo Black is a Detroit gentleman who volunteers for the infantry in an uncharacteristic whim and finds himself fighting in America's secret invasion of Russia. The result is a dramatic narrative of chance and coincidence, and also a serious reconstruction of an evolving social landscape. It is wholly exhausting and entirely satisfying: to borrow an idea from Chaplin's great personal-artistic quest in the book, it's a work as good as Gold. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307270688
  • ASIN: B004MPRX2C
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mrliteral VINE VOICE on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's always refreshing to go into a book or movie with low expectations and come out finding that it not only was better than expected, but actually really good. On the other hand, it is always disappointing when you have high expectations - in fact, you're positively inclined to the book even at page one - and then find it is actually not so hot. Sadly, Glen David Gold's Sunnyside fits into this latter category.

Gold's first novel was the wonderful Carter Beats the Devil, a book that made me want to see what'd he do next. It took years for Sunnyside to appear, and it wasn't really worth the wait. The title refers to a movie by Charlie Chaplin that was being made during the bulk of the story. Chaplin, in fact, is the central character of the book, though I'd be hard pressed to call him the main character; he only appears in around a third of the book and much of the rest of the time, the story has little to do with him.

In fact, it's unclear what Sunnyside is supposed to be about. It seems to be several very loosely connected stories (often tied together only tangentially to Chaplin), none of which are all that interesting. Probably the best plot line in the book follows Lee Duncan who is forced into fighting in World War I and winds up saving a couple puppies from death. In another storyline, Private Hugo Black (apparently no relation to the prominent Supreme Court justice of the mid-Twentieth Century) gets tangled up with the American attempt to squash the Bolsheviks in Russia. Chaplin, meanwhile, tries to make movies, romance women, bolster the war effort and fight the studios.

In other words, there is a lot of activity going on, but it really doesn't add up to much. The plot - what there is of it - is muddled.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In 2001 a magical (in more ways than one) first novel by Glen David Gold, entitled "Carter Beats the Devil" was published. It immediately heralded the arrival of a major new writer and caused those of us who read it to begin to wait eagerly for Gold's second novel. We knew, of course, from the outset, that A) it would be well-written since Gold demonstrated the kind of mastery of language that wasn't going to disappear, and B) it couldn't POSSIBLY recapture the magic of "Carter". And we waited... and waited... and, just when we were resigning ourselves to the possibility that Gold would become a sort of Harper Lee for the new millenium, he brought forth "Sunnyside". And we discovered that A) was correct, the language, the style, the characters, were every bit the equal of "Carter". AND B) was correct as well; "Sunnyside" isn't anywhere near "Carter"... it's SO MUCH better. As with "Carter", Gold focuses a lot of attention on a real person, only, where magician Howard Carter was a somewhat obscure character (indeed, I had to look him up to be sure he WAS real), this time it's no less a personage than Charlie Chaplin. And, as with "Carter" Gold blends fact, fiction, and outrageous speculation, into a whole. But, whereas "Carter" essentially became a marvelous anecdote, "Sunnyside" creates an epic world. More I will not tell you, because you MUST read and discover this world for yourself... or you'll regret it for a long time to come.
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Format: Hardcover
I was swept away by Carter Beats the Devil, so I had great expectations for Sunnyside. The book was a complete letdown. There are three stories in Sunnyside that are unrelated apart from the fact that they are occurring at the same time, albeit in very different locations: Hollywood, France, and Russia. There isn't really much of a plot to any of them. The main story concerns Charlie Chaplin making a movie, although I'd guess that around half the book concerns the other two. I kept waiting for the stories to somehow converge, but in the end I was left with no idea what the point of this book was.

And then it hit me. Throughout the book, Chaplin is constantly at a loss for what to put in his movie, what story to tell, and how to bring it together, and is running behind his deadline. Finally, he is told not to worry about it. If it doesn't fit together, the audience will just assume they aren't clever enough to figure it out, since he's Chaplin after all. Whether through irony or intention, that is Sunnyside, it's a Chaplin film that never fits together. I'll give Gold the benefit of the doubt here, and assume he did it on purpose, if so its clever, but not even close to being worth the length it takes to read this one.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What is one to make of Glen David Gold's second act, "Sunnyside," which comes more than seven years after his much praised first novel, "Carter Beats the Devil"? As with Carter, Gold again demonstrates his extraordinary gifts - characterization, humor, and perfectly metered prose, as well as exceptional research - are not for this author tricks but sheer magic. Yet where Carter followed a story that was linear and easily deciphered, "Sunnyside" follows not one track but several. And if like most readers you follow these various paths expecting that Gold will eventually bring them together in some tidy ending, you are sure to be disappointed. Instead these separate stories circle each other and occasionally almost, but never quite touch, having in common the period leading up to America's involvement in World War I.

Gold gives us one story of handsome Leland Wheeler, the son of a woman lighthouse officer and a Wild West scoundrel who dreams of Hollywood fame against his mother's wishes; a family of Russian Jewish grifters who dream of riches; Hugo Black, an intellectual who searches for glory but has the misfortune of being sent to Siberia as part of the Allies ill conceived plan to undermine the new Bolshevik regime, and, of course, Charlie Chaplin. One hardly knows what to say about the Chaplin story, as it engages so many other varied plots, sub-plots and characters (and so many characters! Doug Fairbanks, Goldwyn, McAdoo, Zukor, Mary Pickford, Rin tin tin , etc, etc, etc) as Gold attempts to present and critique Hollywood's formation.

I cannot sufficiently praise either Gold's prose or his research. Here is historical fiction presented by a master, who weaves a spectacular tapestry of facts, fiction, and opinion creating a whole that runs through with pathos and humor.
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